Most people know the none-too-funny joke: “Every time the English find an answer to the ‘Irish question’, the Irish change the question”.
Irish Militant, January 1967, implicitly endorsed physical-force-on-principle Republicanism by way of denouncing the Stalinist Republican leaders for talk of disarming.
In fact there is important truth in it, except that it has usually been the English, by their activities - and sometimes by their inactivities - who have changed the question. The “Irish question” has in history been a succession of different “questions”, each growing out of the previous one and the way it was answered.
In the 1860s the Irish question was mainly three questions: the land question, the Home Rule question, and the fact that a minority Anglican church, alien to both Ireland’s Catholics and its Presbyterians, was the Established Church of Ireland.
No less a person than Karl Marx thought that the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 would eliminate the religious sectarian question. The Tory party thought that the series of Land Acts that turned peasant rent into lower annual mortgage payments was “killing Home Rule with kindness”, and many European Marxists came to think that too.
The winning of Dominion status and, incrementally, of real independence for the 26 Counties (culminating in the removal of the last English naval bases in 1938), combined with Home Rule for the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, redefined it yet again.
Most Republicans until the late 1930s had tended to accept the verdict of both segments in the 1922 Sinn Fein split and the civil war that nothing much could be done about partition as long as the majority in Northern Ireland wanted that state to continue.
From the late 1930s, to nationalists, Republicans, Stalinists, and republican socialists, the Irish question became the partition question.
This took the form of attributing to England all or most of the blame for partition. For some — the Fianna Fail current and later the Provisionals — the solution was to persuade or (the Provos) coerce Britain into ending partition.
For Republicans, Stalinists and Stalino-Republicans, the focus came to be on denouncing Northern Ireland as a police state for its treatment of the Catholic minority. The fundamental fact that a million Protestant Unionists, the compact majority in north-east Ulster though not in the whole Six Counties, wanted partition, was simply buried in a mixture of agitation against the Orange Police State — truthful, more ot less, as far as it went — and self-deceiving pretence that Britain is the main opposition to a united Ireland.
So the “Irish question” became, narrowed down to, the partition question.
Most commentators today think the “Irish question” of the last decades and the Provo war has been solved by the creation after 1998 in the Six Counties of a system of intricate bureaucratic confessionalism, in which the rights of Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and Unionists, are equalised. Almost certainly they are wrong.
The Northern Ireland system, as well as being a poisonous institutional sectarianism, is, as all confessional states and sub-states are, inherently unstable.
But anyone who talks of “the Irish question” at a particular stage of history needs to define what he thinks the question then was.
Discussing the Irish Workers’ Group of the 1960s, Rayner Lysaght asserts that “the national question” was the most important issue then. Here Lysaght, the adoptive Irish nationalist, as always, gets in his own light. He had a peculiar line on aspects of the Irish question. He reads them back anachronistically on to the IWG dispute.
The “national question” was indeed an overshadowing presence in the IWG — but not as Rayner Lysaght would have it.
We were, all of us in the IWG, to varying degrees but all of us without exception that I can recall, attuned emotionally and in our thinking to the Irish nationalist culture we had received in song and story and school history. We were all influenced by the inherited memories of the older generation, of the War of Independence (1919-21), the Civil War (1922-3), and the struggles of the Republican movement against the “Free State” (the 26 Counties); all of us identified with the long struggle of Irish Catholics in history against oppression and for the freedom to be ourselves. (I grew up listening to my mother's stories of the Btitish teror in West Clare after the Rineen ambush, and accounts of the shooting of the last three of 77 republicans killed after capture by the Free State Army, at the "Home Barracks", in Ennis, in May and June 1923.)
That culture shaped, enhanced, and sometimes warped even our conceptions of ourselves as individuals.
We were too, all of us, in our basic politics, shaped or at least heavily influenced by the going wisdom in both Catholic Ireland and in the left of the British labour movement, that the “Irish question” was now mainly about partition; that partition was fundamentally imposed by British imperialism; and that the consequence of partition was that Northern Ireland was an oppressive “police state”.
There was also an important strain in both Irish nationalist and British left (then, on this, mainly Stalinist) propaganda that the wretched state of the 26 Counties economy was also a product of partition, which artificially cut the “Irish economy” in two.
A peculiarity of our situation was, as I argued in an earlier article, that Trotskyism, as it was twenty or 25 years after Trotsky ceased to contribute to it, with its Permanent Revolution "abracadabra" solutions to the dilemmas of Irish revolutionary politics, lent itself easily to the role of being a mere loose and unencumbering garment to wrap around the culture, concerns, goals, and “analysis” of both the physical-force-on-principle Republicans and the Stalinist-influenced “left” in Britain and Ireland.
The Republicans told a story of endless, successive, cumulative betrayals by Republican apostates, who went over to “politics” and to collaboration with British Imperialism, then butchered and jailrd their former comrades who remained true to their old cause.
The Stalinists of the Connolly Association told a variant of the Republican story, adapted to their own aims of using Irish nationalism against Britain, NATO, etc.
For orthodox Trotskyists, this story of betrayals resonated well with our own story of the betrayals of Stalinism.
In the mid-1960s, as the Stalinist leadership of the Republican movement steered unmistakably in the direction of “politics” and away from physical-force-ism, all sorts of “wild men” were shaken loose. They were precocious Provos, except that the Provisionals were an avowedly right-wing breakaway from the Stalinist Official Republicans, and these “wild men” were often “socialists”.
Some of them were also, despite the political story they told to themselves and about themselves, armed robbers, and, some of them, indistinguishable from simple bandits.
What were the real questions then of analysis and politics on the “national question”, or “Irish question”, that the IWG or any revolutionary Marxist group had to answer? I thought, and think now, that they were these, nine of them.
The real questions
One: What was the nature and outcome of the Irish political revolution that had occurred between 1916 and 1923, and of the economic land revolution from above between 1869 and the tidying-up Free State and Fianna Fail Land Acts of 1923 and 1933?
Two: What was the nature of partition, and of the division between the peoples on the island that was at least one of the causes of partition?
Three: Did partition mean that Ireland had not completed its bourgeois-democratic revolution?
Four: If it did mean that — if the bourgeois-democratic revolution was not complete — what did that mean for the work of revolutionary socialists? That we should focus on completing it?
Five: If yes — we should focus on completing it — then did that mean relegating to the future the work of building a socialist movement, to fight for the workers’ republic? Did that have to wait, as the Stalinists said, until after we had completed the bourgeois-democratic revolution — united the island in one political entity? Or could the two be combined?
Six: What was our attitude to the extant physical-force-on-principle Republicans? The revolutionary nationalists, the people whose political ancestors the Communist International and the infant Communist Party of Ireland had backed in 1921 and afterwards?
Seven: What was our attitude to “left Republicanism”, the populist-nationalist politics that the Stalinists and such Stalino-Republicans as Peadar O’Donnell had created in the 1930s?
Eight: What public attitude should we take to religion, in which so much of Irish political life had been and was clothed? What should be our attitude to the Catholic Church, which dominated the 26 Counties to the extent that there were large elements of a theocracy in that bourgeois-democratic state? To Catholic, and Catholic-nationalist, sectarianism? (To Protestant sectarianism in the North we were naturally and uncontentiously opposed).
Nine: What was our attitude to Ireland’s involvement in the then-developing European Union?
In the year between the split with the Maoists (in September 1965) and the start of Rachel Lever’s and my efforts to commit the IWG to answering those questions differently, the IWG’s answers were, roughly:
Ireland had had an abortive bourgeois-democratic revolution. It still had to complete its bourgeois-democratic revolution. For practical purposes that meant unifying the island politically under a central government. Partition was an imposition of British imperialism, aided by quislings and traitors in Northern Ireland.
But Ireland could be unified only if the working class took the lead and simultaneously fought for socialism, for the workers’ republic, in a process of permanent revolution.
Irish revolutionary socialists had to focus on completing the bourgeois-democratic revolution, but not, as the Stalinists and Republicans said, in stages — first the bourgeois-democratic revolution, then the working-class socialist revolution only at a later stage. It should be done by combining the completion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution with the socialist revolution.
The revolutionary nationalists — the physical-force-on-principle Republicans — were seen as having in general the right attitude, the “revolutionary” attitude. But they needed to understand that they must combine their struggle with the struggle for socialism — for “Connolly’s Workers’ Republic” — and take that as their all-shaping goal.[
There was an occasional disrespectful references to the Catholic Church in “Irish Militant”, but never a clear statement for secularism. The IWG did not, as far as I remember, say anything about the European Union before I wrote a piece in mid-1967 denouncing nationalist-Stalinist opposition to European unity even under the bourgeoisie.
A peculiarity of the IWG is that we had very little of the work of previous Irish Trotskyist organisations to draw on. That was in part because little of such work had ever existed, and in part because we were largely ignorant of what little there had been.
For example, the Trotskyists of the extremely small Revolutionary Socialist Party had come out for a federal solution to Irish unity around 1948, but the first I heard of that was in the mid 1990s, when an AWL comrade, Bruce Robinson, unearthed a copy of the Irish Trotskyist leaflet.*
A couple of “heavy” articles by Bob Armstrong, a Scotsman who was in the Irish group in the 1940s, had appeared in the British Trotskyist magazine Workers’ International News around 1944. It is improbable that none of us had seen those pieces — Daltun and maybe Lawless may have done — but I knew nothing of them.
The biggest influence in the IWG on the national question was Stalino-populo-nationalism. That tradition existed, was known, was accessible, and had been dominant in the Irish Communist Group. It would be disinterred — in pamphlet reprints - and propagated by the Irish Communist Organisation (the future BICO) for another five or six years after the 1965 split in the ICG. (When the BICO turned Unionist its stock was taken over and enlarged by the Cork Workers' Club, whose papmhlet reprints are still in circulation.)
One measure of the nationalist-populist-Stalinist influence is that the IWG marked the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising by republishing as a pamphlet a 1936 piece by Sean Murray, then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, with a token introduction by Gery Lawless.
The group had no coherent theory or analysis on Ireland (or anything else). Essentially it had disjointed "Trotskyist" phrases and name-tags, like “permanent revolution” (and even these were too often juggled with thoughtlessly). The IWG thought those phrases answered the Stalinists, the Maoists, and the “pure” Republicans, but they didn’t. What they did was mystify the issues even further.
The group subsisted on agitation, some of it very good agitation like the campaign it ran against proposed anti-union legislation in the 26 Counties. Everything was agitation-led, and inescapably much of that implied positions and theories that were a long way from revolutionary socialist politics. For instance, the IWG agitated against the Stalinist turn towards politics and towards disarming the IRA, and that implied support for the physical-force-on-principle people.
A while back, looking through a file of the IWG magazine An Solas (later Workers’ Republic) from late 1965 and 1966, what struck me most was how much of it was straight glorification of physical-force Republicanism and guns which were identified as revolutionary politics in Ireland. It identified revolutionary politics with physical-force-ism and often with the wild men of fringe Republicanism.
Liam Daltun was named as editor in An Solas. My guess is that in practice the magazine was produced by Gery Lawless and whomever he could find to help him, Eamonn McCann most likely. But Daltun too, though by far the best of them politically, was not entirely divested of his physical-force politics of the 1950s.
The truth is that the IWG was intellectually and emotionally parasitic on the Republican physical-force-on-principle movement and tradition. While the Stalinists exploited Irish nationalism for their own ends — to use it against Russia’s enemy, Britain — the would-be Trotskyists were themselves emotionally and intellectually dependent on it. People like Rayner Lysaght and the Irish Mandelites still are.
I will list the issues as they came up, and as I remember them or can find written remains of them in the IWG files I have.
The Flag dispute: in 1966 the group was heavily involved in agitation among the Irish in London against Fianna Fail’s anti-union legislation, brought in to curb working-class militancy which had risen in the comparative economic boom conditions then.
A dispute emerged between, on one side, Gery Lawless and the nationalism-first “wing” of the IWG and, on the other, Liam Daltun and Eamonn McCann, about whether to display the tricolour or the Plough and Stars flag, the flag of Irish Labour, of Jim Larkin’s Irish Citizen Army and the flag of James Connolly.
Liam Daltun later wrote an account of the antics this dispute generated, including a loud and near-violent clash between Daltun and Lawless at a big broad public meeting on the anti-union laws.
I can’t see now why they didn’t agree to carry both flags — the tricolour to identify themselves to Irish observers of marches and open-air Hyde Park meetings, and the Plough and Stars to identify the IWG politically. But when I became actively involved I came down heavily on the side of Daltun and McCann.
I think it was one of those often intractable disputes in which what is ostensibly discussed is actually a stand-in for or token of something much bigger and broader — in this case, for Daltun’s and McCann’s, and my, distrust of the strong nationalist coloration of the whole IWG.
The dispute was effectively over when I became active in the IWG in late 1966.
Permanent revolution? An editorial in Irish Militant by Lawless and McCann gave me a chance to start a discussion on the substantive issues — the nature of partition, the “class character” of Ireland, the roots of partition, and so on. The correspondence can be found at www.workersliberty.org/pr-ireland. My understanding at that time was that I had convinced them that “permanent revolution” had no application to Ireland. That is what they said.
Attitude to physical-force Republicanism. In early 1967, Irish Militant, the printed IWG monthly, carried a front page article under the headline, “Taking whose gun out of politics?”
It was a straightforward denunciation of the Stalinist Republican leadership for disarming. The article reflected the viewpoint of physical-force-on-principle Republicanism and for all practical purposes embodied it.
We all in the IWG, though for varying reasons, loathed the manipulative Stalinists who had got control of the Republican movement. But the question here was: in the name of what, positively, were we opposed to their “political” turn? In the name of the old physical-force-on-principle Republicanism on whose patent bankruptcy they were building their “political” alternative?
The article, written by Lawless and, I guess, McCann, appeared under the name of a quasi-Trotskyist member of the IRA Army Council, Phil Flynn, whose first encounter with the piece was when he saw it in the printed paper!
The tone and manner was that of a heresy-hunting denunciation of politics — on the grounds that the politics were Stalinist and parliamentarian — from the point of view of an accepted physical force Republican status quo. A picture of IRA volunteers doing weapons training in the dark was not, as it might well have been, offered as a neat metaphor for physical-force-on-principle-republicanism, but as something valuable that was in danger of being lost. A caption carried this lamentation: “IRA volunteers learning to assemble guns by touch. If certain people have their way this will become a picture from the past.” This was as politically nonsensical, from a Marxist socialist point of view, as it was politically stupid. It could only cut us off, needlessly, from thinking Republicans who were aware of the bankruptcy of physical-force-on-principle Republicanism and were tempted by the Stalinists’ turn as the only political alternative on offer.
For the upcoming An Solas/ Workers’ Republic (no.17) Gery Lawless had written a short bombastic piece denouncing an article in the United Irishman commenting on the tenth anniversary of the IRA Border Campaign.
His viewpoint was simply and straightforwardly that of the dissident Republicans of the mid-50s, the Christle group and Saor Uladh. (Daltun too, I think, had taken part in the split in the IRA at that time). I found a copy of Lawless’s article — in Eamonn McCann’s handwriting — in the IWG files.
With the Irish Militant nonsense in mind, I wrote an analytic overview of Irish Republicanism from 1916 onwards, tracing the zigzag back and forth between constitutionalism and physical-force-ism.
I redid Lawless’s account of the 1956 IRA split as a small subsection of a much longer piece.
I asked Lawless if he would accept the expanded article, or wanted to have two pieces in Workers’ Republic, mine and his. I expected a political fight on the IWG's attitude to physical-force-ism.
Not only did Lawless — hitherto the most raucous demagogue of “cowboy” physical-force Republicanism — agree to a single article, but he suggested that he alone put his name to it, “for the good of the group”, to which I agreed. For my political concern — moving us on from romantic and essentially a-political glorification of physical-force Republicanism — this was “game, set, and match”. It was an unexpectedly easy political victory. In serious measure, it was a deceptive one, but of course I didn’t know that then.
The article provoked no controversy in the group.
The populist-Republican tradition. Even without its characteristic romantic attitude to political violence, the Paedar O’Donnell/ George Gilmore/ Stalino-Republican tradition was (and is) a major element in the left republicanism which Trotskyists like Lysaght clothe in the wrap-around garment of their version of “permanent revolution”.
I wrote a review in Irish Militant of an important pamphlet by George Gilmore, in which I rejected the central populist-nationalist notion that a working-class orientation was necessary because Republicanism needs the working class if it is to thrive and survive. I asserted that the socialist workers’ movement did not need that kind of Republicanism.
"The old garrison imperialism. from which Ireland suffered for 700 years. has given way in most areas of the world to modern dollar-type imperialism, which cares little if its victims run their own diminutive armies, have their own parliaments. their own chair at the UN, or speak Arabic. Swahili, Urdu or Gaelic. It has its own language—money... The Great Powers can rely on their overpowering economic strength to maintain their old dominance in a new form. Divided or not, capitalist Ireland will still advertise in foreign journals inviting businessmen to come and exploit Irish labour.
British imperialism will very likely encourage a capitalist unification of Ireland, given entry to the Commol1 Market. But a unified Ireland, though of course highly desirable, will still be as much equal to Britain or the USA as the worker is equal to the millionaire — the bourgeois formal 'equality' is just as much a sham internationally as nationally. The old demand for national independence meant freedom from oppression and freedom of development. Today these goals can no longer be reached by pure and simple "Independence" — but by the linking up of a free Federation of Socialist States.
For revolutionary socialist workers today, traditional republicanism is itself just not revolutionary. The heroic republican tradition must be translated into the conditions of our day: advocating national independence, we must be clear that in the capitalist world economy, this is little more than a formality. Demanding reunification we must understand that it will be brought about, if not by the capitalisis themselves, then as an incidental in the establishment of a workers' republic. Supporting even limited struggles against imperialism, our task is to build a revolutionary movement of the working class to overthrow capitalism and join the world's workers in aboIishing modern imperialism."
The article passed without controversy in the group — but that, too, I came to think, was deceptive.
The European Union. I used the occasion of a knockabout polemic against the leading Irish Stalinist Desmond Greaves, who ran the Connolly Association, to put the case against making a fetish of Irish “sovereignty” and independence from such international associations.
That fired no dispute either — though later Rayner Lysaght, when, towards the end of 1967, he became involved in the IWG, tried to object to it; and not long before the group began to split, Gery Lawless said something to me about his starting to think that we’d “maybe” have to change our line on the EU. There would, I think, have been a political fight about that, had the group survived long enough, but of course it didn't, and there wasn’t.
At the time my deliberately provocative article in Irish Militant stirred up no controversy.
(A note of explanation is needed here for readers who will know that opposition to the European Union is now, and for decades has been, an unreflecting article of faith for much of the left. All the British Trotskyist groups rejected agitation against the European Union (then called the Common Market) when the Stalinists started it in 1962-3 at the time of Britain’s first unsuccessful attempt to join the EU. We counterposed to it working-class unity against all the bosses, with the orienting slogan, “In or out, the working class fight goes on”.
In the next decades all the Trotskisant groups came out against the EU and adopted the gist of what had been the Stalinist position. The first was the Healy organisation. In 1966-7, when Britain made another try at entering the EU, the Healyites denounced the Wilson government for wanting to join the capitalist EU instead of building a socialist Britain...)
The Language Freedon Movement. There was a small fracas in the IWG, involving Lawless and me, when I, in passing, in an editorial in Workers Republic attacked a left Labour man for a “totalitarian pronouncement” against the language freedom movement.
The Fenians. There was a dispute of a rather different sort about how we would commemorate the Fenian rising on its hundredth anniversary in March 1967. A member of the IS [SWP]/ social-democratic wing, which by then was part of the IWG, developed the anti-physical-force-ism ideas in the “Lawless” Workers’ Republic article “Where the Hillside Men Have Sown”, into what I thought was a social-democratic incomprehension of the great revolutionaries of the past, and wrote a social-democratic (and to my mind a-historical) critique of the Fenians.
After much discussion, he agreed to re-do the article, then asked me to. When I did as we had agreed, he took great umbrage at it — or at something else.
The incident was thrown about in the faction fight, used by the nationalist wing (the social democrats were now with them) to complain about the way Rachel Lever and I ran the Workers’ Republic magazine.
Religion. There was also a dispute about coming out clearly against religion and for secularism, centred on a piece I had written for the magazine.
Have I forgotten anything important? In the period of the break-up of the IWG, among the charges levelled by Gery Lawless against me was heresy on the national question, but I can’t recall that anything specific was said.
The main charge was that I was a British nationalist. In so far as this chauvinist idiocy had any substance to it at all, it came down to the fact that I was primarily active in the British labour movement — that is, in the labour movement of the country in which I lived.
But by September 1967 we seemed to have got agreement on the national question and on how the IWG would henceforth relate to it. It was summed up in the IWG manifesto of September 1967, the preamble to the new IWG constitution.
"[Only the ] Irish proletariat [is] capable of putting an end to capitalism’s futile existence, and capable, as part of the world revolutionary class, of realising the ages-old dream of the people of Ireland for freedom. The best traditions of the old, bourgeois, republicanism have passed to the socialist working class...
The only genuine liberation of Ireland will be from the inexorable — uncontrolled — pressure of international capitalism. All the essential goals of all the past defeated and deflected struggles of the Irish people over the centuries, against oppression and for freedom of development and freedom from exploitation, can now only be realised in a Republic of the working people, as part of the Socialist United States of Europe and the world.
The IWG stands against the divided Irish bourgeoisie, Green, Orange and Green-White-and-Orange alike, and for the revolutionary unity of the workers of all Ireland in a struggle for state power. The Irish working class has no common interest with any section of the Irish bourgeoisie....
National unity will be achieved, if not by the coming-together of the Irish capitalist class under the auspices of the British imperialist state and the capitalist drive towards West European federation, then as an incidental in the proletarian revolution. The possibility of any other revolutionary reunification is long since passed. The only revolutionary republicanism today is the internationalist socialism republicanism of the proletariat.”
The appearance of agreement was delusory. In truth what Rachel Lever and I ran in Workers’ Republic was a tiny literary bureaucracy, cut off by geography from the actual political life of the IWG, which was mainly in London. Add any adjective you like to remove any hint of self-aggrandisement in that statement, but it is true. I would have bitterly resented it if anyone had said that, but it is the plain truth.
I worked with the not obviously absurd idea that if people do not protest, or object, or respond negatively, then they accept what is written in articles and in formal statements; and certainly that those who endorse the statements, or put their name to the articles, or positively say that they agree, do.
That was naïve. Some start was made in analysing the realities of Ireland, but it was only a start.
Finally,chauvinism: there was in the IWG an atmosphere of Irish chauvinism, embodied in Gery Lawless. The group was a client group in relation to the Militant (RSL, today’s Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal), IS (today’s SWP), and the small Mandelite group. Lawless played the role with them of the professional Irishman, to the disgust of people like Liam Daltun, Joe Quinn, me, sometimes McCann (I think), and no doubt others as well.
If you want to judge that for yourself, have a look at the minutes of the IS (SWP) discussion on Northern Ireland in 1968: www.workersliberty.org/node/9322.
I objected to counterposing Irish-nationalist historical grievances to working for workers’ unity between British and Irish workers in Britain, where there were hundreds of thousands of us, and between the two communities in the North. The reader can get a further idea of that from the files of Socialist Worker, where we headbanged on the issue when Lawless (with Chris Gray) wrote a crassly chauvinistic and ignorant piece on the 1916 Rising, to which I responded: www.workersliberty.org/node/9693.
In conclusion, and to repeat: Lysaght, the adoptive Irish nationalist gets in his own light, as always. He reads his own peculiar line on aspects of the "Irish question" then back anachronistically on to the IWG.
What Irish Trotskyists said in 1948
Labour must withdraw from the Coalition!
An Emergency Conference of the branches must be called to repudiate the leaders and demand their withdrawal. If on being directed to withdraw, they refuse - expulsion must follow.
Full support must be given to this policy by Northern Ireland Labour. The workers' interests can be defend only against all capitalist parties.
An all-Ireland conference should be called, giving representation and voice to all working-class tendency, for the formulation of a programme linking the fight against partition with the anti-capitalist struggle.
1. Complete political independence from Britain. Transfer of the Westminster powers to a United Dail.
2. A wide degree of Protestant autonomy in Northern Ireland.
3. Restore all civil liberties. Full religious freedom and tolerance. No clerical intrustion into politics!
4. Solidarity with all peoples oppressed by British imperialism, Russia, or any other power. No secret commitments to Anglo-American imperialism.
5. Workers' Control in industry.
6. Finance housing and full employment at the expense of profits and rents.
Published by Revolutionary Socialist Party. Secretary: Bob Armstrong, 15 Brookvale Ave, Belfast.
Leaflet of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a small Trotskyist group that existed in Ireland in the 1940s. The Revolutionary Socialist Party, advocated a policy which resembles our own on the question of Protestant-Catholic relations. It called for a “wide degree of Protestant autonomy in Northern Ireland”.
It seems to us that federalism is the only feasible arrangement now, but our fundamental idea has been expressed like this since 1969: “As much autonomy for the Protestant Irish minority as is compatible with the rights of the Irish majority”. The exact details will be worked out in discussion and negotiation. The RSP’s policy is underdeveloped, but is character, tendency and implications are unmistakeable.
The RSP was initially linked to the British Revolutionary Communist Party, and then a separate organisation. In the late 1940s’ discussion amongst Trotskyists about the class nature of Russia, they adopted the position of the Workers’ Party of America, that it was bureaucratic-collectivist.
Always tiny, the RSP disappeared at the end of the 1940s. One of its members was the late Matt Merrigan, who was central to the Irish left for half a century.
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